Monday, January 04, 2010

Top Talent from SB

I've heard it asked many times, "Who's the most talented bike racer from Santa Barbara?"

That's a hard question.

First of all, "from Santa Barbara" means to me that they were living here and discovered bike racing when young, say, under 18 years old. That has significant implications, because it excludes from consideration a whole bunch of really good riders who came from out-of-town to attend UCSB, including:
  • Dylan Casey
  • Eric Cech
  • Dave Fiengold
  • Matt Dubberley
  • Adam Laurent
  • Kieth Horowitz
  • Lynn Brontzman/Gaggioli

...along with a bunch of really good riders there right now.

That definition also excludes some really good bike racers who have come to live in Santa Barbara AFTER already establishing themselves in the sport. Examples of those would include:
  • Aaron Olson
  • Kim Anderson
  • Jacob Erker
  • Erik Saunders
  • Ben Haldeman
  • Zach Walker
  • Dave Lettieri
  • Ken Hanson

So you might think that those exclusions wouldn't leave many riders to choose from. You'd be wrong. Santa Barbara has produced a remarkable number of home-grown talented riders over the years. Below is my list of the top-10, presented in no particular order. Of course this is all subjective, and your opinions may vary.

Adam Duvendeck -- A two-time Olympian on the velodrome, and multi national champion. Started bike racing as a junior with Echelon in the mid 1990s along with Aaron Musicant and Matt Abrams, the first crop of many great juniors coached by the next rider on the list.

Rory O'Reilly -- 1984 Olympian, former world-record holder in the flying kilometer, one of the fastest road sprinters in the US in the late 1970s and early 1980s before turning focus to the velodrome. Rode for the famous 7-Eleven team. In the picture here, Rory keeps a close eye on a young Greg LeMond.

Cody O'Reilly -- Rory's son and a favorite of the entire SB cycling community. Seems like only yesterday that Cody was a little tyke on the back of Rory's tandem, his tiny legs turning circles on a 150 mm crank installed just below the seat. Fast forward to today, and Cody is one of the fastest road sprinters in the US, and arguably the best all-around track rider in the country, having just won the Elite Omnium National Championship. Cody has improved every year for the last decade good will he ultimately get?

Uthman Ray IV -- A Dos Pueblos High graduate who began his cycling career flying down hills in the dirt before turning attention to the road. Uthman quickly rose to Cat 1 and was a solid all-around rider for the couple of years he raced seriously. He's a smart guy who completed graduate school at UC Berkeley and has apparently put cycling on the back burner ...for now.

Larry Shields -- When I was a kid in NorCal just getting into bike racing, I only knew of two racers from Santa Barbara. One was Rory, and the other was Larry Shields. His reputation as a smart and savvy rider was well known, but clearly he had an abundance of strength too. A multi-time National Champion on the road as a junior and a podium finisher in the Elite ranks. The picture here shows Larry winning a National Championship after dispensing of a quicker Chris Springer with a crafty move in the final corner.

Kurt and Derin Stockton -- Brothers, both among a select group of the best road sprinters in the US during the late 80's and early 90's. Both rode as professionals for a number of teams and participated in all the big Pro races back east, with Kurt winning the USPro Road Championship in Philly in 1990. Both went on to successful careers on the booming downhill MTB circuit.

Chris Walker -- Most people don't realize C-Walk started bike racing as a junior back in the mid 1970s. He was a mediocre rider back then and soon hung up the bike for other interests. He returned to the sport ten years later (1987-88), and since then has put in, oh, at least a quarter million miles of training. I'm completely serious. Do the math... 20 years X 52 weeks/year X 250 miles/week. Probably a low estimate actually. He's been a podium finisher in some of the hardest, highest-level races in the country, including Tour of the Gila and the Killington Stage Race. He's won National RR Championships as a Master and Elite competitor, along with many Districts victories. Still, at 48 years old, he's one of the top roadies in California.

Daniel Ramsey -- When I first met Daniel he was an affable, slightly-gawky, enthusiastic puppy dog of a bike rider. Fast forward fifteen years or so, and he's now one of the most exciting bike racers you'll ever see. Nobody rides with more heart and grit than Daniel. If you think of US Domestic Pro bike racing as entertainment, then Daniel is a star. If you've never seen him roll one of his improbable solo break-aways with 100+ hungry riders nipping at his heels, well then you are missing one of the most heart-pumping scenes in bike racing. Sometimes he gets caught (e.g., annually at Manhattan Beach) and sometimes he pulls it off (Sea Otter; Tulsa Tough). Either way, it's always a great show.

Nieko Biskner -- A mercurial career if there ever was one. Nieko also started as an Echelon junior after doing some running at San Marcos High (5K in the 16's!) and when he began to really train on the bike, his talent was immediately evident. A big-boned kid at 6'5" he was still as good a climber as anyone in town, and when he got on top of a gear on the flats, well, following him was essentially motor-pacing. He finished top-10 in a Tour of Georgia sprint and recorded 1900+ watts on his SRM. That's a Mario Cipollini-like number. In the NRC San Dimas Stage Race one year, he powered a small break in the road race and was barely nipped at the finish by Chris Horner, who was the most dominant rider in the US at that time. Nieko's pro career only lasted a couple of years because he was pulled in lots of conflicting directions, including school and partying. Who can blame him... would you rather ride your bike a quarter of a million miles earning minimum wage, or hang out at night with good friends and pretty ladies, and learn about cool technology during the day?

So that's my top-10 list.

At this point, it's fair to revisit the original question, "Who's the most talented bike racer from Santa Barbara?" But this naturally leads to a more enigmatic question, namely, "What is talent with respect to bike racing?"

Every rider mentioned above has talent. For example, Adam was able to master all the technical and physiological details necessary to get maximum explosive power out of his body. Both Rory and Cody were and are able to live extremely disciplined lifestyles that ensure maximum productivity from their training efforts. Kurt and Derin had the bravery to fight at the front of thundering field sprints. C-Walk has the ability to religiously churn out thousands of miles in training. Daniel seems capable of tapping into raw emotion as a fuel source, digging deeper than most people realize is possible.

All those traits above are important, and clearly they led to success for all these Santa Barbara bike racers. To me, however, "talent" in the context of bike racing is defined as an innate potential for great success, and it's mostly a physiological aptitude. In my opinion, for raw physical talent, Nieko tops the list and I think he could have been a world-class bike racer.



Anonymous said...

That is an interesting list Marco??? I'd like to see a top 20 list.

Anonymous said...

if talent being a combo of results & tactical skills, you got to look at the all rounder Cody. Great list and post!

Anonymous said...

This is a great list and love the pics, Can I suggest you dig up a little perspective from the PRe and post Sheild's era as to not have 90's slant? Other names to look up are Bob Meeker, Rick Pepper, Chris Jordan, Tommy Hodges and yes Doug knox helped support all these riders. I bet I have forgotten a few??

You have got to give the nod to the ONLY ever SB born US PRO champion Kurt Stockton When somebody else wins a jersey that big, then we can talk. He also was a two-time U.S. World Championships team member and winners of some tough races. I watched him beat the 1st US TDF rider Jock Boyer and teammate Gavin Chilcot at Willows Road Race southern California's premier road race. He did this on a hot day in a 3 man break with the above teammates working against him. Incidentally he was the 3rd straight rider from SB to win Willows. Chris Jordan and Tommy Hodges and KS all one in consecutive years for SB.

Marco Fanelli said...

Good talk all! Thanks for the comments.

To me, the issue is the distinction between "talent" and actual accomplishments. My logic was to think of riders who made it at least to a level where true talent was clearly visible, and in my mind, that meant riders who were at least cat-1 or UCI pro and reasonably competitive at a national level. My comments about Nieko were meant to be somewhat controversial. Clearly, if results were the only criteria, you'd need to pick somebody else. KS? Rory? Cody? A case can be made for them and others.

It's true I have a bit of a blind spot for the time between around 1982 to 1989 since I was mostly off the bike then. I knew Bob, and he was certainly competitive regionally, but in my opinion doesn't rise to the level of the names I listed. I certainly heard of Tom Hodges' climbing prowess, but again, was he a cat-1 competitive on a national level?

...A funny side story about Chris Jordan: I didn't really know him, but one day he was visiting the girls who lived next door to us on Del Playa (inc. Dara Rogers and Mary Gastil) and his bike was out front. My drunk roommates and I were tossing a baseball around and one throw went wild and smacked his wheel taking out some spokes as I recall. Like irresponsible idiots, we kept playing and ignored him when he came out and found the damage. Sorry.

...But anyway, again, was he and/or Rick Pepper competitive on a national level?

Part of what prompted me to write this post was an argument I had recently on a bike-racing newsgroup about top women riders from SB. Using the same criteria, I had trouble thinking of many. Certainly Cherie Turner was very good. Are there others?

Anonymous said...

This is great historical record..only trying to make it better... like a wiki

I bring up the late 70's early 80's because they played on a different field. Most would be pro Europe now. Some road the Zinger and Coors...ask around, ask Doug Knox, Wayne Stelly, Hrach Gevrikyan and Rory who should be on list for 70's & 80's. I think some 90's riders had no clue how good the riders before them where

I always thought is was sad that most of each SB generation has no respect for the pioneers before them. I also say this to triathlete (when they ask) they should respect cycling pioneers in the states..LOL

Marco Fanelli said...

> ask around, ask Doug Knox, Wayne Stelly,
> Hrach Gevrikyan and Rory

Funny timing...

Doug just called me and we had a nice long chat about all this. He told me about Steve Frank, a name I had honestly never heard before. Apparently he was as physically talented as Nieko, having once spent a solid hour otf of the junior nationals field, only to be caught near then end AND STILL SPRINT TO 5TH PLACE! Sadly, knee problems ended his cycling career all too soon in the early 80's.

But yeah, I agree with your point... it's good for the new generation to be aware of who and what came before them. Of course that goes both ways... lots of old retro grouches who do group rides and talk endlessly about the good old days when bike racing was fast and they rode through the snow, wind, and sleet... but those retro grouches never get out to the CURRENT high-level races to see the today's generation in action.

There should be a mutual respect. Whether in the 70's, 80's, 90's, or now, top riders make HUGE sacrifices to be as good as they can be. Total bad-asses, all of them.

Anonymous said...

Steve Frank had a bright bright future... but he could not focus and to be honest did not try and fix his knee issues, girls and cars sucked him in. He raced 3 months as a senior with great results and quite....I challenge DK big time on this one.

Anonymous said...

hey marco. here's a idea for a new topic. who has the best style on their bike out on the current SB groups rides?

Marco Fanelli said...

Best style? Oh that's an easy one... surely everyone agrees that it's Peter Boberg, aka, Tee-shirt Pete!

TnA said...

I think Gary D-velo in his "pink" phase gives Pete a run for his money...

Anonymous said...

If I recall, Jamie Paolinetti told us how KS won the USPRO jersey. Jamie always told us to never give up at Philly. At one point KS was 14 minutes behind the field. But they kept easing up and easing up and KS apparently clawed his way back and won the bunch sprint. good story.


Anonymous said...

Jake, I remember that story too and have re-told it a few times!

Marco Fanelli said...

Jake & Ryan-

That's a cool story JP told you guys, but I need to correct one thing... Kurt didn't win the field sprint, he was 3rd (behind Paolo Cimini and Laurent Jalabert) but of course he was first US rider, thus the jersey. Pretty awesome. Looking at the results, it's fun to see the names from yesteryear, in particular good ol' Dave Lettieri down in 36th (and a few groups back @ 2:39)!

Cat5 pro said...

Hey let's get real here. You've omitted a VERY big and VERY important element here about who was the best then, who is the best now, and who will be the best in the future day's SB cycling.

What am I talking about you ask? Oh come on... we all know that Sunday Worlds and Mothballs are the two DEFINERS of SB cycling. You haven't taken the sprint at Worlds? You ain't jack...jack. Never taken the V at Mothballs? Sorry pal, move to the back of the line

Marco Fanelli said...


You are SO right! But just to set your mind at ease, I DID incorporate the Mothballs and Sunday Worlds victories in my complex equations and computer simulations that produced this top-10 list. All those riders list those prestigious events on their palmares, I mean, who wouldn't. In fact I think KS probably values some of his Research Park victories more highly than that race in Philly.

iamTedKing said...

Ted King. But that's just me.

Marco Fanelli said...

Dear Mr. King:

Thank you for your nomination of: TED KING for the Top-Talent-From-SB award. We take all nominations seriously and perform a thorough analysis to whittle them down to the widely-publicized top-10 list.

Unfortunately, our distinguished panel of judge has determined that you do not make the list. On the one hand, your completion of the 2009 Giro d' Italia does weigh in your favor. Unfortunately this was offset by your lack of any noteworthy results in either the prestigious Mothballs Criterium in Goleta, as well as having never won the Santa Barbara Sunday group ride. Our research department notes that you had ample opportunity to attempt these events. In 2009 you elected to skip the criterium the day after the Poor College Kids RR, in which you put in a respectable ride by the way. Further, while in SB most recently, you opted to go riding with a Mr. Lance Armstrong instead of participating in the group ride. Our panel interprets those decisions to mean that you do not take the award seriously, nor do you give it the respect it deserves. Besides, you were disqualified from the outset because you are not actually from Santa Barbara.

Be advised, however, that we are considering a secondary category, "Top Talent Among East Coast Snowbirds Who Come To SB For Winter Training" and you are a solid candidate should you choose to resubmit your nomination for that award. Thank you.

The Panel of Judge

ps. I hope your Euro training camp is going well. Give a shout out if/when you return to SB.

coureur said...

I have to say that Cody is an extremely talented cyclist. However, as far as natural athleticism goes, Nieko was a more rounded athlete. Cody is awesome but he has only focused on cycling. There is nothing wrong with that. Stick to what you know you are good at. Nieko, however can also haul ass as a runner, and he has tried other sports as well. They are both very personable people that are friendly and polite. I wish that I could have had the natural tallent that these two possess.
Everyone else mentioned are also fantastic cyclists and we are all very fortunate to have such great cyclists and people come from our little village.

I wonder if I would have made this list if it went 25 deep, maybe top 50?

Larry Shields said...

Marco, interesting list. This was sent to me by a friend that I ride with here in SLO.
Glad to see such good talent come from the SB area over the years.
Will be in SB the first week in march to escort some of former bike riding friends from Seattle. If you are interested in riding with some old guys (some are really good -- me excluded) let me know.
Larry Shields

Marco Fanelli said...


Thanks for commenting. Yes indeed, some talented riders have come along in the years since your time. No surprise since we still have such excellent training options around here.

I would be interested in riding when you swing through in March, depending on schedule constraints, etc. Mostly it would be enjoyable for me to hear much more about your racing exploits back in the day. My email is somewhere on the upper right of the blog.

Mark Fennell

Anonymous said...

Marco= Having competed as an Intermediate, Junior and Cat 1 against Rory and Larry, I'd have to say that for pure strength-Larry and pure speed Rory (or Shannon on occasion)We had our own group of guys from the South Bay that were not too shabby as well. Ralph Therrio, Gibby Hatton,etc.

Rick Pepper said...

I'm flattered to have been mentioned in the same breath as some of these other riders. Tom Hodges and Chris Jordan, my associates of the day, were powerful and strong riders for sure. Chris had a flying 1 km jump that was astonishing. He won many races with that trick. Tom was very well-rounded, as I recall was a top-3 at Nationals, won the (then venerable) Willows Road Race. In fact, for several years Santa Barbara athletes won that race seemingly every year for several years running.

Dale T. Rates said...

Greetings Marco...I just stumbled upon this blog while thinking of a few names from my past(I don't know if it's still active or not). I was raised in Goleta and began racing in the ancient Santa Barbara Touring club (Yellow and blue jersey that's hanging on the wall behind me!!) in 1971 or so. I was a classmate of Larry Shields and could never escape him! ;-} We both ran cross country at DPSHS...did you know he was also a champion flite runner also? I frequented the Wednesday Research Park Crits and the Monday Time Trials on cathedral Oaks Road. I nearly won the final stage of the Tour de Santa Ynez in '73, but in the final descent, I was in a wild break with the Mexican Junior Tean when the rider in front of me left the road and fell---my front wheel went right into his seatpost and over I went (what spared me worse injury was that many riders were popping collarbones that year...Rory included! and told me if ever in that situation to curl-up into a ball). Broken collarbone was all I got. The next year, I went on a tour around SB county with Larry, Paul Stoufles (sp?) and Chris Pauley---yeah, the frame builder guy! I really miss a lot of info from back then (I still ride for fun and fitness on my '74 Falcon San Remo(!) here in PDX). It was real fun to read these comments and see that Larry is still around and doing well. Many thanks for hosting this! Blessings to all!

Marco Fanelli said...

Dale- Thanks for commenting and sharing your piece of the SB cycling history. I had to laugh when you mentioned the Wed Research Park crits and Monday TTs because THEY STILL HAPPEN!!! Wed nights are not like they were when it was at their biggest and fastest a couple decades ago (!!!) but still a cool mid-week opportunity for those who want it. I did not know Larry Shields ran XC at DPHS. Not surprising though, as a good aerobic engine can move from running to cycling pretty easily. (I'm finding it more challenging going the other direction however!) Take care, and enjoy Portland ...another great town) --Mark (aka marco)

Anonymous said...

All great names there. Larry Shields and Rory O'Reilly were probably some of the trail blazers in the area. One for helping put SB on the map, and the other for putting it on the track map!
On a related note, you need an expert to recognize talent and I think that Doug Knox can be credited for being the biggest contributor in recognizing talent, having coached countless young talented riders (mostly in the SBBC/Centurian team). I remember getting hammered by the likes of Rick Pepper, Chris Jordan, Tom Hodges, The Stockton Brothers, Steve Frank, Dave Huang, Ed Philbrick, Wayne Stelly, Peter Boberg, Tony Vincenti, Hrach Gevrikyan (though he wasn't from SB), and let's not forget some of the amazing ladies like Dara Rogers and Janelle Parks.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm No one mentioned Kent Bostick? I believe he was there with SBBC circa 1980 (+- 5 yrs) Monster strong sprinter, used to break bottom brackets on the Nishiki frames!!

AlB said...

Miss the SBBC...great entre into racing for me. Always amazing that world caliber riders (wayne, Kent, Rory, Larry et al) would take time to coach up us scrubs. Its what made me love cycling to this day. I would add Kent Bostick, Bob Meeker, Kevin Cox, Daryl Abrahms to the list as they all contributed

AlB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.